Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My Children and the Papal Conclave

I barely remember the election of Pope John Paul II. I was eight years old, but don't remember watching the news coverage or anything. The thing I remember most clearly was my oldest sister writing to me from France (where she was living for a few years) to tell me that the Pope had the same birthday as me.

It was easy for Catholics of my generation (Generation X) to take Pope John Paul II for granted, yet we loved him a lot. He was a major shaping influence on the way we saw the world - even if not all of us accepted his message fully. If you consider two of the most prominent role models we had as children and teenagers - Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II - it's no wonder that we turned out more optimistic and pro-family-values than anyone expected.

It was just more of a shock to me than I expected when the Holy Father died. Peaceful, sad and at the same time joyful, but still a huge loss.

I really wanted my children to experience and remember the whole Papal Conclave and the announcement of the new pope. We took the whole day off on Monday, April 18 (first day of the Conclave) from "regular" schooling.

The big event was a special Mass at our local Marian Shrine celebrated by Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan. We had been talking about going to this Mass for at least a week, but I admit that I almost bugged out because we had a particularly tiring weekend (I spoke at our local Catholic homeschool conference and manned a table there all day Saturday) and a slow start to our morning. Well, we did make it, but with only ten minutes to spare. To our dismay, only the most distant parking lots had space (a walk up the hill with kids) but the weather was nice, they were enthusiastic and it wasn't a big problem at all.

We made it to the upper church with just a few minutes to spare and it was packed. I shuffled the kids into a little nook toward the back on one side of the church. Just then, all of the priests walked right past us to line up for the procession. They were followed by the Archbishop who stopped to put his hand on the children's heads and thank them for coming.

My father-in-law showed up during the processional song to direct us all the way around the Church to a little chapel (they call it the oratory) that faces the altar on one side where there were still some open seats. This was nice because the little ones (especially the 1 and 3 year olds) had a little breathing space and it was carpeted, so the noises weren't so sensitive. The older kids sat in front with their grandparents and were able to see the altar pretty well.

It was a beautiful Mass, filled with hope and faith. The Archbishop gave a wonderful homily and the children were "glowing". The Holy Spirit seemed especially present. The sheer number of people there (it is a very large church and there were people lined up all along the back and sides) was very moving. I just love Church singing when the Church is REALLY packed. :)

This was already a very special day for us, but lo-and-behold, the Archbishop looked over at all of us through the little "windows" between the oratory and the altar and decided to distribute communion to (50 or 60 of) us personally. I received communion with a toddler on each arm (receiving on the tongue is such a convenient, as well as beautiful thing sometimes!).

The children were walking on clouds all day. What a beautiful and memorable way to celebrate (and even participate in by prayer) the Papal Conclave. The oldest ones, at least, will never forget that.

Now, we heard that we should look for the white or black smoke from the Vatican at about 4 am and 11 am our time. We heard by the time we got home from Mass that there was no decision that day. That night my 9 year old son asked permission, if he was awake at 4 am the next morning to turn on EWTN (we watch it on the Internet) to check for the smoke himself. He was and he did, but the smoke was still black.

Later that morning (when I was awake, hehe), I remembered to turn on EWTN - I think it was about 10:15, but I didn't want to forget. I called the children over because smoke was already pouring out, although it looked black again. We all watched as the announcers (Arroyo and Neuhaus) concluded that there was still no decision. The smoke continued to pour out though and there was some noise and anticipation in the crowd. The camera panned back to the smoke and it looked white. As the announcers discussed in wonder that the smoke looked white, our excitement at home grew. It was many moments before there was certainty - some bells turned out to be only the Angelus bells. The crowd was getting more and more excited too, when finally the Vatican bells, followed by bells from all over Rome pealed out in joy. Habemus Papam!

We were literally jumping up and down. (And God Bless EWTN for offering this excellent coverage for free on the Internet!) Now all we could do was wait and wonder who the new pope was. We had heard that the announcement would be made in Latin. Apparently there is sometimes confusion about the name of the new pope because of the "translation" of the name into Latin. I figured we'd have to listen pretty carefully and maybe be able to figure it out. As we got closer to the announcement, the signal became a little choppy. I imagine there was a surge of Internet activity from all the interest in the announcement. Finally, some movement at the window and Pope John Paul II's coat of arms draped from the balcony. The picture and especially the audio are cutting in and out.

Finally Cardinal Estevez is on the balcony (remember the picture is pausing and jumping on us). We hear "Habemus Papam!" We're cheering right along with the crowd in Rome. We're straining to hear and understand. The audio is still jumping on us, but we hear, clear as a bell Ratzinger. How great is that? [grin - I worked for Ignatius Press in high school, so I've known about Cardinal Ratzinger for a LONG time!] He comes out on the balcony looking dignified but a little bewildered.

He gives an awesome opening :

"Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me — a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.

"The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.

"In the joy of the risen Lord, trusting in his permanent help, we go forward. The Lord will help us and Mary his very holy mother stands by us."

and his blessing of course.

What a memorable two days for us - and especially my school age children. It is such an amazing time to be a Catholic (and the homeschooling doesn't hurt!). Viva il Papa and God Bless Pope John Paul the Great as well!

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